WILLIAM CLARK STORY
WILLIAM (BILL) CLARK was not the original owner of Clark’s General Store. In the later 1930's he purchased the property where the present store is situated, from the Seede Brothers who had operated a General Store and fur-trading business there.
The story of the Clark’s General Store is indivisible with the story of Bill Clark. Gathered here are various accounts collected from materials found at the museum, edited for language, brevity and consistency.
When Bill Clark was just 11 years old his mother passed away and Bill left his home in New York to head out to work in the lumber camps. Sometime after that he made his way to the "Great Gold Rush" in the Yukon. While there he acquired a dog team and began trapping. His lead dog was his pal and a constant companion. When Bill made trips to Edmonton the dog travelled with him and if the dog was not allowed in his hotel room he just went to another hotel that would allow it. When Bill’s dog lost a tooth so he had a new tooth put in for him ---it was made of gold. When the dog passed on he had him done up as a full rug mount and he was the main attraction on the living room wall.
Bill came to the Cold Lake area in the latter part of the 1800s. His first enterprise was a sawmill on the east shore of Cold Lake. After the sawmill he set up a store beside the Belleview Hotel (now the location of the Catholic School). With the new edition of the store Bill also became a fur trader. There were stories where people say he skated around the lake picking up pelts from various trappers.
It was not uncommon to see piles of weasel, lynx, fox, wild mink, squirrel, muskrats and coyote skins either hanging or in piles waiting for the fur buyers, some of whom came from Winnipeg and Edmonton which in those days was a great distance. A lot of these furs found their way to furriers in Eastern Canada and New York.
During this time Bill and Bess adopted her late sister's youngest child (Bess's family were from the United States--around Philadelphia). They had to wait until Lavern was almost a year old before they could bring him across the border. The father and other relatives raised the four other children.
In the later 1930's Clark relocated to below the hill, purchasing the property where the present store is situated, from the Seede Brothers. They had operated a General Store and fur-trading business there. They were also the ones who installed the gas pump that is still situated in front of the store. On the back of the property was the log house with a sod roof that became the Clarks’ home.
During the 1930's Bill also started a General Store in Cherry Gove with Bill Dilcox. They stocked it with a wide variety of goods but during the "Dirty Thirties" people just did not have the money for "store bought goods" and it failed to prosper and they closed it.
The present house was constructed around the little log house. The little log house remained and became their master bedroom. Charlie Samuels was one of the carpenters on this new house and Mrs. Clark would not let them remove the sod roof until the roof was on the new house. The dirt from the old sod roof had to be hauled out -- right through the new house.
When Bill had the house built he had the upstairs made large enough to accommodate a pool table so that Lavern and his friends could have a place to gather in. They were too young to go to the local pool parlor. It was a well-used room.
Bill liked to go hunting in the fall for grouse and prairie chickens. When Lavern was old enough to go with him Bill acquired a willing hunting partner. As soon as school was out for the day they would head out and always came home with some game. They were boiled, fried or canned for the winter months.
When Lavern finished his schooling he went to work in the store and became his dad's "right hand" man. He carried on the store after his dad passed away and until he was diagnosed with cancer and his health forced him to sell the store. In addition to the help Lavern gave his dad, he also had his own ideas. When the bottle depot in Grand Centre closed down, Lavern felt they were taking away a service that was needed in the community and started a bottle depot in the old warehouse behind the store for the people.
During the War (WWII) years Bill was the local president of the Canadian Red Cross Association. Besides the work he did, Bess distributed bundles of wool so volunteers could knit mitts, vests, socks, helmets, scarves etc. for the soldiers overseas. The Red Cross also supplied wool plaid and wool to be made into jumpers, scarves, mitts and toques for the needy children. Whenever Bess was between customers in the store she would pick up her knitting needles and get to work on her share of the knitting. The ever-enterprising Bess also did a lot of crocheting while she was watching the store. Bill had a display case in the store for her work and it became another source of income.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Clark were avid Bridge players. They started Bridge evenings at their house. It made for an enjoyable night out as midway through the evening they provided a lunch for everyone. Proceeds raised from the evening were donated to the Red Cross.
The store counter was also a card table for impromptu card games, and during those times store business was conducted on a self-serve basis-----no one interrupted a good Bridge Game for anything! Bill's favorite expression was "help yourself and put the money on the counter."
In addition to running the store Bill Clark was contracted by the railroad companies during the 1930s and into the early 1940's to supply rail ties for the building of the railroads. During the winter months he contracted men to log timbers for him out of bush and cut them into tie lengths. If needed Bill did not hesitate to "grubstake" these men from his store.
In the spring the tie logs were sent down the Martineau River to Cold Lake where they were put Booms ready to be pulled across the lake to Halls. There they were pulled out along the beach and young men from the area peeled the rest of the bark off. Bill always drove his own inboard motorboat to pull the booms and Charlie Samuels used to ride the log booms and watch for loose ties. While Bill was out pulling booms, Bess and a clerk tended the store. This trip was usually done near the end of May because there was less wind. Each trip took from 14 to 18 hours.
After the ties were sorted and peeled Bill hired trucks to come and haul them to the Y" (the end of the rail line, which then was south side of the Beaver River near Beaver Crossing). The "cull logs" (logs which were not good enough for ties) were hauled to Clark's store to be used as firewood.
During the summer Bill spent many hours with a Swede saw cutting the cull ties either in half for the Long Barrel Stove in the store or in three for the house. The log pile usually ran the along the side of the store and at times was a good six feet tall. During the winter months Bill was often seen sitting in front of a block of wood with a hammer straightening 'Spikes". Spikes were used to secure the lumber frames around the booms while they were being transported across the water.
Bill was also the proud owner of the only "Snow Plane" in town. They used this machine to go visiting or to go to Bear Lake to play cards. The Snow Plane was also used to transport people to the hospital or to take them to meet the train, both of which were in Bonnyville at that time. This was the nearest connection to the outside world. After Bill passed away Lavern donated the Snowplane to the Edmonton Museum and they promised him it would always remain there.
One of Bills greatest pleasures was listening to the World Series on the radio. For many years his desire was to see the World Series and in 1941 he announced to any and everyone that he was going. He took his son Lavern and went to Edmonton to buy a car. Lavern said they spent a lot of time "shopping" for the right car. Bill was not a formal dresser and expected people to take him as he was. This was not usually a problem, but Lavern said trying to buy a car with someone dressed in his usual attire of an old sweater and baseball hat did not exactly bring the salesmen running.
As the story goes:
Finally Bill approached a salesman and said, "I would like to buy that car" to which the reply was "Do you think you can afford it?" Bill reached into his old sweater and pulled out a wad of bills and asked, "Do you think that will cover it?" A very red faced salesman replied "I'm sorry Sir, would you please come into the office with me?"
Lavern and his dad arrived home in a new car that was the envy of many. Bill packed up Bess and Lavern and headed to New York to see the World Series. On the trip there Lavern said his dad just had to take the new car out on the salt flats, outside of Salt Lake City, to see how fast the car would really go. One of stories Bess told about the trip was how they had their picture taken on the Street in New York—Bess in a beautiful new wool suit, Lavern dressed up in a suit and Bill (his new suit in the suitcase) wearing his famous old sweater and ball cap. Bill only cared about seeing the ball game.
Perhaps because of this interest Bill worked toward starting a ball club in Cold Lake. Any young boys who were willing to learn were always welcome. His son Lavern became a favorite pitcher on the team. Bill would hire trucks to haul the team to ball tournaments in the surrounding country side. After the games they would always get a hotdog and ice cream cone—a real treat in those days!
Bill also started the first public skating rink in Cold Lake. It was located on the land behind the store, which is now a park. In the fall he would set up his portable engine on the lakeshore and run a firehose across the road past the store and the house to flood the rink. Many, many people first learned to skate, play hockey or just have fun there. In 1949 a curling club was started and a curling rink was built on the west end of the skating rink. In later years the club took over the maintenance of the skating rink.
Bill found the winters extremely long after Bess passed on in 1967. There were fewer Bridge games, so to keep busy, he started painting the flowers on the ceiling tiles in the store. Lavern would take them down one at a time and Bill would paint each one by hand and then Lavern would put that one up and take another down. This continued until every single one was done. These tiles are still in place in the store.
Bill Clarke passed away in winter 1969. Mr. and Mrs. Clark are laid to rest side by side at the United Church Cemetery in Cold Lake. At Lavern’s request his ashes were placed on his parents’ grave.